After a long journey down a road that he is sure had more bumps than a wart-covered toad, Ichabod Brooks is happy to pull himself out of the carriage. The dark-skinned man pauses in the doorway to enjoy the warm sun on his face and a salty breeze that cleans the smell of body odor out of his nose. Turning to help the elderly couple down, the adventurer does his best to ignore the aches in his joints. He frowns at how his traveling companions show no sign of discomfort, but he knows that this is what he gets for being reckless in his youth. The teasing words of his wife echo in his mind, adding a pang of homesickness to his list of minor maladies. Getting the heavy luggage off the top of the carriage, he waves for the wild-haired driver to focus more on the horses. Ichabod can tell that the animals are exhausted and the road was worse for them than his creaky knees. It helps that stretching for the bags allows him to subtly work the kinks out of his back, which pops to remind him of his age and mileage. By the time he is done helping the old couple, the tall and muscular man feels more like himself and walks with ease into the coastal city of Yew Cove.
Ichabod stops in the middle of the road when he notices that people are staring at him and the conversations are dying down. Fearing that he is about to be attacked, he grips his simple longbow and lets his other hand fall to the leather quiver on his side. His blue eyes dart from side to side, allowing him to take in his surroundings with more detail. There are banners of every color hanging from the rooftops, each one depicting either an arrow or a bow. Rickety carts with souvenirs are scattered about the main street, none of them close enough for Ichabod to get a clear look at the merchandise. Noticing that the citizens keep looking from him to something at the entrance to town, the adventurer cautiously turns around. He groans at the sight of a large illusion of himself straddling the main street and aiming a golden longbow in at the sun. The towering figure grins to reveal teeth that sparkle in a way that makes Ichabod wonder if the caster responsible has ever seen the real things.
“Do you like it, old friend?” a chuckling elf asks as he approaches. The brown-haired man adjusts his sleeves and waves for a band of archers who are following him to relax. “Personally, I think they should have gone for a more rugged look. You seem so soft here. Reminds me of the day you came to me for training. Who would have thought you’d grow up to be a legend and judge one of my tournaments? How’s your family?”
“My wife says hello and apologizes for not making the trip. Our son came down with a fever, so she had to stay behind,” Ichabod answers while shaking his teacher’s hand. He stares at his rough fingers holding the elf’s smooth-skinned hand, the contrast making him sigh. “Every time I see you, Corso, I’m made to feel older. Be nice if your kind could at least pretend to age before you hit three-hundred. Sorry to hear that you stopped teaching last year. Strange to have the great Felgrass Tournament without a Felgrass student involved.”
Corso nods his head at a large wall of names, which is being raised to add another at the bottom. “Well, it was bound to happen eventually. People wanted me to block my students from entering after you won five tournaments in a row. I know I say this all the time, but thank you for resigning from future contests. That was a difficult decision and I always feel like it is what put you on the path of an adventurer. Without the tournaments, you had nothing to work towards and this is a conversation for another time. Today, we celebrate after I introduce you to the youngsters vying for the winner’s quiver.”
“You always do that.”
“Start that junk about me being an adventurer because of what happened here then stopping before I can respond.”
“I wouldn’t have to if you visited for more than happy events.”
“Me being in the area and swinging by is not a happy event.”
“It is when I haven’t seen you in three years.”
Ichabod rolls his eyes and runs a hand through his black hair while remembering how stubborn his teacher can be. He gestures for the elf to lead him to the group of archers, who have moved away to get some food from a vendor. All of the competitors are young, the oldest-looking one a tall, female orc whose blonde hair has been tied into a braid that goes down to her waist. Standing in the middle of the group, the beautiful archer appears to be the most popular with several of the boys buying her beef skewers. A flash of her polished tusks is enough to make them blush, which Ichabod guesses is her way of gaining an advantage over her enamored enemies. Scanning the group, he spots another teenage girl that is on the edge of the group with a beardless dwarf. The quiet pair are tending to their longbows, hers a smooth ivory and his a ruddy oak. While the boy nervously glances at the others, his red-haired companion pays them no attention even when she is done with her gear maintenance. The only sign that she is anxious about the tournament is a repeated twisting of a silver ring, the movements leaving a red welt on her finger.
“You don’t look like much,” a bald halfling states as he approaches Ichabod. The well-dressed competitor licks his lips at the sense that everyone is watching him. “The stories say you carry a bow that is twice as big as you. That thing in your hand is pathetic. Where is your golden quiver and magical horse that can crack the ground in half? You really shouldn’t go out in public if this is the real you. Best to stay in hiding, old man, and let people believe the legends.”
“I don’t even know how to respond to that level of rudeness and stupidity,” Ichabod admits as he looks at Corso. Turning back to the halfling, he sees that the young man’s name is embroidered on both sleeves and his boots. “Magris, I’m going to be honest with you. Bards embellish to make money for themselves. Those stories do nothing more than get me in trouble, so I will proudly walk around in public if it means undoing those tales. All I am is a man who puts food on the table.”
“I told you that he wouldn’t take the bait,” the red-haired archer says before standing in front of her opponent. Bowing low, she flicks the halfling’s nose with the tip of her bow and drives him a few steps back. “My name is Holly Jesvel and I’m honored to meet you. I became an archer because of you, but not through the stories. You probably don’t remember me, but I was kidnapped seven years ago by a man named Vulker. You saved me. I’m happy to finally thank you in person since you were gone before I woke up from his drugs.”
A grumble runs through the crowd, many of them glaring at Holly in the hopes of boring a hole in her back. “I remember that and I’m glad to see you’re over that event. Vulker was always a thorn in my side even when we were both training under Corso. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad to see him turn into a kidnapper instead of someone good. Then again, he’s been quiet for the last three years, so maybe he’s given up on being a criminal. By the way, don’t go thinking our past will give you an edge. This is all about focus of mind and skill with the bow. My personal thoughts and connections have nothing to do with this.”
The competitors stare at Ichabod for a few seconds before dividing into their cliques and heading in different directions. Only Magris looks back and sticks his tongue out at the adventurer in a final attempt to get a fight out of the confused man. There is a brief temptation to give the arrogant kid what he wants, but Ichabod already feels exhausted at the thought of wasting energy on someone who would pose no real challenge. Corso cannot stop himself from laughing at the expression on his former student’s face, the elf wiping away a few tears that roll down his angular cheeks.
“I should have warned you that they were going to try that,” Corso says once he regains his composure. Hearing a cart coming from behind, he steps to the side and waves to the workmen who have arrived to set up for tomorrow’s tournament. “Holly is the one that people expect to win since she has the discipline and skill one normally only finds in veterans. She isn’t worried about anyone here, which I think will be her downfall. Even someone like Magris can be a threat since he’s good enough to reach this level. What do you think?”
“I think I need some sleep,” Ichabod replies with a yawn. His eyes fall on the inn that is holding a room and private bath for him. “Let the kids be kids. We’re only young for a fraction of our lives. The gods know I wasn’t much better than Magris at times. Remember the time I challenged that forest tracker to a contest?”
“I remember you getting pinned to a wall when you called him a coward.”
“Not my proudest moment, but I learned to watch my mouth.”
“Are you planning to terrorize some of the cockier competitors?”
“That depends on if you make me go to that boring banquet that you always plan.”
“It’s a shame that your travels left you unable to attend.”
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart, old friend.”